In addition to being an occasion to recognize the sacrifice made by so many to keep America enjoying the liberty its known for, Memorial Day also serves as the unofficial beginning of summer. That means one thing – there's going to be a whole lot of grilling going on this weekend.
Backyard barbecues and beer are a match made in heaven, and it's rare to find a bag of charcoal that doesn't have a cooler full of frosty beer sitting alongside it just waiting for friends and family to arrive and crack open a few bottles and cans. The trick for a good host is to make sure you've got the right stuff in there, and the right stuff is completely dependent on what's tossed on the grill.
Typically, traditional American grub – burgers, hot dogs, brats, steak, and even ribs coated in sticky sweet barbecue sauce – calls for lighter beers like lagers and wheat beers. But if you start breaking out some of the more intense international flavors that have hit the flames more often in recent summers, the bulgogis, carne asadas and other heavily spiced cuts of meat, then beers that can bite back make an appearance. IPAs, porters and even heartily-hopped ales are tailor made to cut the spice and clear the palate for the next tantalizing bite. But the best beers to drop in the cooler straddle a fine line between these categories, switch-hitting with the same skill as Mickey Mantle and making every bite better, no matter what it may consist of.
Here are a few that manage to hit it out of the park every time.
North Coast Brewing Co. Red Seal Ale – An American Amber Ale brewed in California, Red Seal breaks out subtly sweet caramel flavors nicely balanced by earthy aromas and a hefty, though not too soda-like dose of carbonation. It pours a gorgeous deep amber red, and drinking it straight from the bottle is all sorts of satisfying, concentrating the citrus and bitter hops that come through on each swallow. The clean flavors pair up just fine with a hot dog or three, but there's enough body to balance out some fairly significant heat. Just don't break out the habaneros. That sort of fire will turn most beers, including this one, into a unique form of penance.
Oskar Blues Gubna – Conveniently packaged in a can for easy access, not to mention providing protection for the beer against the sun's rays and premature skunking, Gubna is an Imperial IPA, a style known for some serious hop-borne bitterness, and Gubna is no exception. Brewed in the craft beer wonderland known as Colorado, Oskar Blues imparted some intense hops flavor into this can. But with surprisingly gentle carbonation and a finish that seems almost oak-aged, featuring a light vanilla note, Gubna is surprisingly easy drinking. It's a heavy beer, but some spice and citrus do a nice job of breaking it up and balancing out what is an extremely complex brew. It stands up to the heaviest spice you can throw at it and hits back with a punch of its own: a 10 percent alcohol content. A few of these and even the most charred hunk of mystery meat will taste absolutely amazing.
Two Brothers Dog Days Dortmunder Style Lager – The closest beer in the lineup to a traditional summer thirst quencher, Dog Days is Two Brothers' summer seasonal and combines a light golden body with satisfying yeast and wheat and just enough bitterness stemming from the addition of noble hops to make the mix interesting. It's straight-up pure unadulterated beer in the grand German tradition. That doesn't happen nearly often enough with American craft brews. It's refreshing, with a touch of orange sweetness that sneaks up on you similar to the way a six pack of this stuff will disappear like a ninja without anyone noticing.
Victory Sunrise Weissbier – A well-executed Bavarian wheat beer, Victory replaces a heft dose of malted barley with malted wheat, resulting in a tasty summer concoction with heavy banana and clove flavors. It's an unfiltered beer, so it pours cloudy and the texture can be a bit off-putting if it's not a familiar style. But the tangy fruit and clean lemony citrus, offset with just a touch of spicy pepper, are a spectacular counterpoint for heavily spiced sausages and marinated skirt steak. Despite this, it still pairs up nicely with a simple burger or drinks nicely on its own. It has a unique fizzy texture to the carbonation as well, likely from the particulates still floating around in the bottle. It's the most refreshing beer of the bunch by far but the banana notes can be a bit polarizing, as can the lack of filtering, so it's wise to keep a few backup bottles handy for those who aren't into it – leaving that much more for you as you man the flames at the grill.